The Covid-19 pandemic has adversely impacted gains of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and also reduced the earlier achievements, economists have said.
They said the virus had hampered the engagement of stakeholders in the process of achieving the targets of the SDGs.
Stakeholders remained engaged through the Internet in some countries but could not do so in many countries due to poor connectivity, they observed at a virtual talk titled "What have we learned after five years of Voluntary National Reviews?" on Monday. It was organised by the Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh.
Irena Zubcevic, chief of Intergovernmental Policy and Review Branch, Office of Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), New York, presented the keynote.
She said around 75% of countries reporting to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development during 2016-19 noted inclusion of non-state actors in governance mechanisms.
She also said 80% of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) highlighted activities to inform the public and the diverse stakeholders.
A summary report of the VNRs said about 53% of the countries engaged non-state actors in preparing their VNRs in 2019, which was 9% in 2016 and 28% in 2017.
Zubcevic said 44% of the 234 respondents strongly agreed that the VNRs had been useful for sharing lessons learned and experiences gained while 45% somewhat agreed.
The report said 66% of respondents strongly recommended for a more specific guidance on preparation, content, and approach to VNRs.
The UN official said the VNRs were changing the mindsets of the people around the world and were strengthening political will, national ownership, institutions, and coordination to achieve the SDGs.
The report identified insufficient time and resources for more robust capacity building, insufficient coordination and integration at the government as well as local levels, and inadequate support by the UN system as major challenges in the VNRs to achieve SDGs.
Among other limitations, the report found insufficient and ad hoc engagement of stakeholders, and limitations of data to monitor and evaluate progress of the SDGs.
Zubcevic said progress towards achieving SDGs had been impacted by Covid-19.
The virus is the main obstacle behind the lower engagement of non-state actors to achieve the SDGs, she added.
Parliamentarian Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and honorary president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said the world was implementing a high-level aspiration agenda with very limited resources.
He also said it was very important to identify the outcomes of the SDGs after five years of the introduction of the global development agenda.
Saber said there had been no significant change in the pattern of the budgetary allocation of resources to achieve the SDGs.
Mia Seppo, UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh, said Covid-19 had re-emphasised and re-validated SDGs. "The climate agenda is very important for Bangladesh as a large number of climate vulnerable people are living here."
She said issues regarding primary health coverage and social protection for the people who slipped into poverty around the world due to the pandemic were also important.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said, "Success of the SDGs will be realised when allocation for health will reach 2% of the GDP from the current 1%, and that for education will increase to 4% from the current 2%."
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, convener of Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, and CPD distinguished fellow, said the VNR was a changing and evolving process but its pace was far less than what was required.
"We need to move forward by utilising the present experiences," he said.
Debapriya said the pandemic had made the importance of the SDGs clearer.
"However, instead of limiting their implementation to mere discussions, the pace of work at the field level has to be increased."
The VNR is a process through which countries assess and present progress made in achieving the global goals and the pledge to leave no one behind.
The General Economics Division of the Planning Commission is the sole authority to prepare the VNR for Bangladesh.